OTA No. 1:
By Jim Wexell
Posted Apr 20, 2010
SCI.com publisher Jim Wexell gives his thoughts and makes some notes on each of the Steelers' Organized Training Activities. Here's the first installment:
One writer compared the cloud of ash hanging over Europe to the cloud hanging over the Steelers’ South Side practice facility. Well, I sensed something similar as I walked to the far side of the practice field to settle in for the first OTA practice of the spring.
“I told you I don’t want those *******s NEAR this practice field!” Mike Tomlin shouted at the new PR intern while pointing at me and another writer.
OK, I thought to myself, this is to be expected.
And then Tomlin broke into a big smile, walked over, shook hands and asked about our families.
So, the ice was broken. I had wondered how Tomlin would handle the proceedings that day, and I liked the bombast and assertiveness.
Later, he called the practice “business as usual.” He also refuted a comment made by Willie Colon that the Steelers now employ a “zero tolerance” stance on off-the-field trouble. Aaron Smith supported the coach by saying, “Guys took it different ways in how they interpreted it.”
Regardless of what was said between head coach and players at the morning greet, Tomlin apparently said it with emotion. In my mind, his approach of upbeat bombast just might be the perfect tonic. What Colon heard is perhaps what he expected to hear.
And let me just say a few words about Colon. He appears to be fuming over the events of the last six weeks. At one point Monday, while standing up and fielding questions from a group of reporters after practice, he said, “I have a female family and they have to read negative things, so-called things that I’ve said.” I gave Colon a chance to set the record straight, but he declined. It was probably a good move.
But, really, I’d thought Colon came out of the mess in Milledgeville unscathed for the most part. I don’t recall anything negative written about him, other than the occasional message board post that, “He’s just another troublemaker out of the Bronx.”
Let me just say that Colon is far from that stereotype. If you know anything about him, you know he’s a guy who did all the right things to scratch and claw his way out of a difficult environment. He didn’t just get by with talent and catch a lucky break. No, he was raised by good people and kept his nose to the grindstone (and gridiron) to make it to the big time. In my opinion, Ben Roethlisberger is helped more by Colon’s friendship than vice versa.
As for Colon’s anger, it probably doesn’t help him that he’s on track to become a restricted free agent for a third consecutive year next March, and that would be – because of bad timing and the lapsing of the CBA – an NFL record. He’s probably feeling as if he’ll never cash in the way his contemporaries have, and that the stink from Milledgeville won’t help his cause. But he’s a smart guy who’s scratched and clawed out of messes before. If he keeps his head, it’ll happen again.
Now, on the field, I was struck first by Kraig Urbik playing center for the second-team line while the normal second-team center, Doug Legursky, played right guard on the same line.
This occurred during the first of three “team” scrimmage sessions, and I hadn’t counted heads on the first team. So I made sure to do so at the start of the next two team sessions, and I noticed Legursky was the first-team center.
I’m not sure what to make of it. Last year’s starter, Justin Hartwig, seemed healthy. He snapped in 7-on-7 drills (but injured centers will do that). Even if he was healthy, I wouldn’t know what to read into it. Were the Steelers taking one last look at Legursky before drafting Maurkice Pouncey on Thursday? I guess we’ll learn more Thursday night.
Hines Ward was the only absent starter (Ryan Mundy and Johnny Williams were the only players standing on the sideline without helmets, meaning they’re injured). So with Ward missing, and Santonio Holmes gone, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle El and Limas Sweed received plenty of work. Wallace beat Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu by nearly five yards deep on one play, but Roethlisberger badly underthrew the pass.
Randle El was his typically loud and brash and positive self, and Sweed, wearing No. 80, caught everything thrown his way while all the coaches seemed to lay on the positive encouragement pretty thick.
Earlier in the day, Sweed had released a worthless statement that he was glad to be back at practice (after missing the last few weeks last season for “personal reasons,” but that was not addressed in the statement) and he was off-limits to reporters after practice.
Speaking of Sweed’s No. 80, here are the new players and their numbers: Adam Graessle 8, Jason Chery 13, Brandon London 15, Will Allen 26, David Pittman 30, Trae Williams 35, Derrick Doggett 45, Renauld Williams 48, Johnny Williams 53, Jonathan Scott 72, Arnaz Battle 81 and Randle El 82.
As for Allen wearing Deshea Townsend’s No. 26, it came as a bit of a surprise since Townsend’s still working out, still playing on the Steelers’ basketball team, and still hoping the team signs him after the draft.
Just a couple of other notes: Randle El and Stefan Logan handled all of the punt-return duties, and Joe Burnett, a second-team corner, broke beautifully on a pass, cut inside the receiver running a hitch, but dropped the interception.
On a more positive note, the second-team backfield of fullback Frank Summers and tailback Isaac Redman appears as if it’s ready to start the season. Both players appear to be in great shape and both worked Monday as if they were telling the team not to draft any running backs this week.